There's little that evokes a feeling of old Hollywood glamour better than dining in the shadow of the Sunset Gower sign. Painted on the side of one of that studio's sprawling sound stages, the sign crowns the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street and peers into the lush patio of La Vida, a new Spanish-influenced restaurant opened by night-life guru Chris Breed and his Sunset Entertainment Group.
If it were a character in a classic film, the space housing La Vida would be Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront." It could've been a contender, but it never found the right concept. Joachim Splichal's Patina Restaurant Group tried twice, first with Pinot Hollywood and then with eat. on sunset, finally conceding defeat and surrendering the ring to SEG, which immediately went about adding much-needed sex appeal to the place.
The crowning achievement of the redesign, carried out by Touster Wright Design, is the spacious front patio.
Lovely arches, lots of green palm fronds and tall white-plaster walls evoke the breeziness of southern Spain. Banquettes line the walls and blue-and-black chairs and tables are casually placed throughout the space. A fire pit toward the far right wall invites those drinking cocktails from the relaxed outdoor bar to sit and sip at a leisurely pace.
"I want to make people forget they're in L.A.," says Breed. "It's just off Sunset Boulevard and all that madness, but when you step inside you can kind of just transform."
And although Breed is known for creating some of L.A.'s most successful restaurant-club concepts (Green Door, Sunset Room, the former White Lotus) he wants to focus on the restaurant side of things with La Vida, using a large back room, lounge, dance floor and DJ booth only for private parties and weekend nights for now.
To that end he brought in executive chef Joseph Panarello, formerly of John Sedlar's Rivera, to create the menu. The cooking is creative and easy on the grease -- very California fresh with a heaping spoonful of Spanish flavor and nods to India and the Mediterranean.
Pita and hummus are brought to the table when you sit down, a welcome variation from the typical bread-and-olive-oil routine. Start your meal with a giant plate of razor-thin Kobe carpaccio sprinkled with piquillo peppers and shaved goat cheese or opt for the delicious baked black cod with a tangy verde sauce, potatoes and Serrano ham. Move on to the messy splendor of the heirloom tomato salad with burrata and lightly spiced curried eggplant before diving into a plate of fresh Champagne-braised branzino, flat iron steak or creamy clam-and-chorizo paella.
Tasty cocktails including the Serrano apple (spiced rum, serrano chile, ginger, apple cider, lemon) and Chivas & honey (Chivas, fresh lemon and clover honey water) were created by star mixologist Pablo Moix.
Order a cold pot of coffee-flavored crème brûlée topped with a dollop of crème fraîche for dessert or opt for one of Moix's sweeter concoctions. If La Vida's exotic environs didn't help you escape the madness of the city, that should do the trick.